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Product Development

Maker Stories

Inside the Artist’s Studio with Barry Rosenthal

June 6, 2014

Barry Rosenthal | UncommonGoods
When our team learned that renowned photographer Barry Rosenthal calls our building, The Brooklyn Army Terminal, home to his studio we couldn’t wait to work with him on a project. Once that project–Pop Top Six Pack Glasses–was ready for our customers’ eyes, I couldn’t wait to tell everyone all about the set. Learning more about Barry’s work and the creative process that lead to the finished product got me, and the blog team, even more excited about having such a talented artist as a neighbor. Knowing that we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to check out his studio space, our own photographer, Emily, and I made the (very) short journey across the BAT atrium to see where Barry assembles his collections of found artifacts and other objects to create captivating photos.

Join us in exploring a new corner of our building by stepping into Barry Rosenthal’s studio, taking a look at some of his unique work, and finding out what goes on behind the scenes when the camera isn’t clicking.

Barry Rosenthal Art | UnommonGoods

What are your most essential tools?
Passion is a tool. My passion to keep exploring. Passion creates more work.

Where do you find inspiration within this space?
I can work anywhere. I started the project by shooting outside. Collecting, sorting and shooting in the field. My current studio is a workspace and acts as a library of my collections. It’s basic and barebones as I look to eliminate distractions.

Inspiration comes from going out into the field and collecting. I need to periodically find new material to work with. Later when working on the set to place the elements into a composition, I find a different kind of energy. When I see how the various components start to play off each other, that positive energy makes me want to continue the discovery process.

Inside Barry Rosenthal's Studio  UncommonGoods
Flowers for Inspiration | UncommonGoods

Where does downtime fit into a day in the studio?
I’m a resident artist at chashama. I have a small studio in a large space with sixty other artists. When I to take a break, there is always another artist to talk to or share ideas with.

What advice would you offer the you of 5 years ago?
Make more pictures. It takes discipline to create.

Photography Tools

How do you set goals for yourself?
Long and short term goals are all based on reaching a new plateau. Whether in my art practice or marketing my work, there are always more opportunities for self improvement and finding openings that lead to new partnerships.

Barry Rosenthal in National Geographic Brazil

Barry Rosenthal’s Photo on the cover of National Geographic Brazil

How and when do you decide to celebrate a victory?
Book a flight to somewhere I’ve never been before.

What quote keeps you motivated? What does that quote mean to you?
“Nothing exists until or unless it is observed. An artist is making something exist by observing it. And his hope for other people is that they will also make it exist by observing it. I call it ‘creative observation.’ Creative viewing.” – William S. Burroughs.

William S. Burroughs quote

I take the term ‘observation’ in this context to mean discovery by curation. I don’t know what I will find in the field, and I may not know what I will do with what I find, but somehow fully formed themes are sparked just by the simple act of ‘seeing’ what is out there. I carefully curate not just what goes into a piece but what I leave out.

There is also a second meaning here. To make the process complete, the audience plays a role by using its power of observation. Someone trained to ‘see’ can bring an audience into a new experience.

Barry's found collectionsBarry's found collection-Gloves

What are some new skills you are trying to acquire to perfect your craft?
Developing my vision. I am constantly tweeking the way I present a new piece. At first I tried the grid then perspective now I am doing new work based on time. What I pick in thirty minutes becomes the next idea.

How do you recharge your creativity?
Every time I return to my hunting grounds new ideas form. Getting out into nature renews this project.

Barry Rosenthal Pop Tops Glass | UncommonGoods

Where does collaboration come into play with your craft?
I like to share my work and ideas. I am involved with several ongoing ‘salons’ where work is shown and ideas are discussed and refined.

Pop Top 6 Pack | UncommonGoods

Barry Rosenthal Glasses | UncommonGoods

Design

An Easy Answer to Olive Pit Etiquette

May 15, 2014

Enjoying olives discreetly isn’t always easy. Where do you ditch the pit? In a crumpled napkin? On the side of your hors d’oeuvre plate for everyone to see? The usual options aren’t exactly attractive. With that in mind, we created the Olive Server.

Olive Server | UncommonGoods

This innovative dish solves the pit problem, holds your picks, and displays those tangy, salty treats in style. To design the Olive Server, our Product Development Team partnered with Paul Brothe, a ceramicist who conceptualized the piece based on his love of nature-inspired ceramics, a modern, lead-free take on traditional Majolica pottery, and the goal of keeping pits unseen.

Sketches

When Brothe first presented his prototype, we loved that it was made of sturdy earthenware painted a natural green color, and provided a way to both serve olives and hide pits. From there, we made a few adjustments to make the Olive Server even more appealing to our customers who want practical serveware with a fun twist.

Original Prototype

While the original design featured a porcine, two-holed opening for depositing pits, we decided to give the pit cavern an oval shape and one larger hole. We wanted to make the piece really pop, but we didn’t want to detract from the realistic olive form, so we chose four colors to accentuate the incorporated shapes.

Process

The fruit-shaped basin is actually two parts. The bowl holds the pits, keeping them in one place for easy cleanup, while the lid keeps them under cover. We chose to line the bowl with a pimento-inspired burnt orange and give the exterior an olive green color. We also added a shade of green to the “leaf” where the olives sit and a branch-hued brown to the pick holder. Now each individually-functional element of the server is uniquely eye-catching, enhancing the look of the all-in-one display.

Olive Server | UncommonGoods

To create the finished servers, each piece is cast from a mold, inspected and trimmed, thoroughly dried, and then fired overnight at a temperature of 2000 degrees Fahrenheit.

trimming_sqfired_sq

Two techniques are used to glaze these bisque fired pieces—dipping and brushing. The glazing is done by hand using special glazes formulated in-house at Brothe’s Jersey City, NJ studio, so the colors are truly unique. The colored servers are then fired overnight one more time, allowing the glazes to fuse together and create a smooth, glassy surface.

Glazing

The result is a high-quality dish that provides an attractive way to serve olives, keeps pesky pits out of sight, and is uncommon enough to stir conversation at any cocktail or dinner party.

Buy the Olive Dish | UncommonGoods

Design

How the Bike Tote was Born

April 30, 2014

When developing a product from scratch, we need to think through all of the details. We think about functionality and ask ourselves basic questions. When we created our Bike Tote those questions were: How will the bag hold objects? How much will it hold? How will it be secured? How will it be carried? What materials do we use to make sure the job gets done?

Here’s how we answered some of those questions.

Bike Tote | UncommonGoods

The tricky thing about this project was making sure the bag would fit the needs of a bike rider. Safety is integral. First, the bag needed to be well-secured to a bike’s handlebars without interfering with the front wheel.

How we made it happen: Sourcing the right buckles.

Bike Tote Buckles

This was our greatest sourcing challenge. We recognize that depending on the style of the bike or gears you have, strapping the bag on or off could be a challenge, so we made sure to source components that would work for as many bike styles as possible.

The buckles needed to open up so that we could completely detach the straps and fasten to any bike. They also needed to firmly and securely support the weight of the bag, without breaking, loosening, or slipping on the bike. After evaluating several different buckle and strap options, we chose these cam buckles.

In addition to securing the bag to the bike, we had to refine the cotton shoulder strap, making sure it made sense for a bike rider. We wanted to develop a true tote bag with a longer shoulder strap, but we didn’t want the strap to fly around in the wind or interfere with the bike in any way.

How we made it happen: A floating zipper.

Bike Tote Zippers

The zipper is isolated from the rest of the bag, which means the bag can be opened fully. It allows a bike rider to place the entire shoulder strap into the bag, with the zipper closed on top of it. The strap is securely tucked inside the bag, instead of hanging loose.

We know that when you’re on the road, dirt and gravel fly up, and things get pretty dirty pretty fast. We wanted to make sure the bike tote would stay as nice as possible, despite being an active bag.

How we made it happen: Black bottom panel.

Bike Totes| UncommonGoods

We lined the bottom of the bag with black fabric to hide any smudges. Remember – because of the buckles, the bike tote can’t be machine washed or dried, so hand-washing and line-drying are your best bets for keeping it in top shape.

As a final design touch, we wanted to help bike riders increase their visibility both from a distance and in the dark.

How we made it happen: Reflective tape around the bag. The strip of reflective tape allows for more visibility of riders as they cruise along and show off their very cool bike tote.

Safety first--reflective tape!

Testing the Bike Tote

Once the product met all of the criteria we outlined, we we needed to make sure it was truly road ready. To test it, one of our team members gave it a try on her road bike to make sure our claims were holding up. “I’m basically going to try and break it,” she informed us.

Weighs

In her words:

“I filled it with as much heavy stuff as I could. I started with books and when that didn’t break the bag, I tried weights (two 5 lb. weights) and large bottles (3 wine-sized bottles). The bag was a bit too big for the bike handlebars on the bike I was testing it on, so for the actual weight test I attached it to the bike cross bar and left it hanging overnight.”

The tote successfully held the weight, and we were pleased to find out that it is capable of transporting a lot of wine. (You never know when you might need to to perform just that function!)

Overall, creating the Bike Tote was fun, we got to work with awesome artists Jason Snyder and Briana Feola (who created the art featured on the tote’s fabric), and we can be proud that we developed a product that’s stylish, high-quality, and super functional.

Gift Guides

Your Graduation Gift Questions Answered

April 18, 2014

Graduation is a special time in one’s life, so I’m excited to answer a few questions finding the perfect gifts for students who are about to accomplish this important achievement.

What would you do paperweight

I’ve gained quite a bit of experience dealing with creatively designed gifts over the years—from my time as a strategy consultant overseeing a global internet retail research study (that’s when I met UncommonGoods founder Dave Bolotsky), to working in Customer Service (and reporting on company operations) for a holiday season at UncommonGoods in 2002, to joining the team full time (as opposed to consulting) as the head of Merchandising in 2006.

Somewhat out of necessity for creatively designed products that didn’t exist elsewhere, we began creating our own products in-house. As someone with a naturally questioning mind, an imagination for possibilities, a product instinct, and understanding of the creative design attributes that define an uncommon good, my responsibilities changed in the fall of 2011 when I become the Director of New Business and Product Development.

Many of the goods we develop here, as well as many of the items from the talented artists and designers we work with, make great gifts for graduation. Here’s my personal take on grad gifting and some suggestions for special gifts your grads are sure to love.

DIY Embroidery Cards | UncommonGoods

How is choosing a graduation gift different than picking out a gift for another occasion?
Unlike any other occasion, graduation, whether it is high school, college or a graduate degree, is a one-time event in any individual’s life—it is a specific accomplishment and also a milestone marking the end of one stage in a life and the beginning of the next.

What are some personal graduation gifts you’ve given in the past? What made them special?
I try to give gifts that have some meaning to the person—it may be something with an inspirational message, or a personal connection to the individual–and something I hope the person will want to keep.

My “go-to” item is often an inspirational paperweight—some of the ones that I’ve given more than once have been in our assortment for many years, like the What Would You Attempt Paperweight and the Be the Change Paperweight.

When my oldest nephew, a die-hard Yankee fan, graduated from college, he received a pair of Authentic Stadium Seat Cufflinks.

Yankee Stadium Seat Cufflinks | UncommonGoods

For the daughter of a close friend who graduated from high school I chose the Growth Necklace by Mary Steratore. It got a rave review!

Growth NecklaceNecklace Review



What could I give to my graduate’s good friends/classmates who are also graduating that is meaningful, but won’t break the bank? (From our Facebook friend Lora Frye Ross)

My suggestion is the 5: Life Playbook. Because it is a book, you have the option to inscribe a personal note on the inside. This is something that can be given for either high school or college graduation, with thought-provoking quotations and real-life examples that are both a spark and a road map for the next chapter.

5: Life Playbook
5: Life Playbook

Do you have a favorite new product (or products) that you think would make a great grad gift? What do you choose and why is it a great gift?
The Road to Success Paperweight is my favorite new paperweight we created–the combination of the road imagery as part of the design is inspiring and understanding of what life is about.

The Home Plate Paperweight is another great choice, for the same reasons, for someone who is also a baseball fan.

Paperweights | UncommonGoods

The most recent grad gift I’ve given was actually one of our newer products. I gave the She Believed She Could Bangle to the daughter of one of my best friends, who I’ve known all her life when she graduated from college. I felt that a bangle bracelet with this empowering quote was truly a keepsake for her.

She Believed She Could Bangle | UncommonGoods

For more inspiring goods to congratulate grads, visit our entire Graduation Gifts Collection.

Maker Stories

The Art of Meditation: Jayne Riew’s Temporary Canvas

March 28, 2014

Jayne Riew Maker Story | UncommonGoodsWith a background in literature and painting, artist Jayne Riew was always inspired by the combination of words and images, along with the connection between art and psychology. “For me, art is most compelling when it offers greater self-awareness,” says Jayne, explaining her process of creating pieces that people can turn to when they need help. “Sometimes when we wrestle with unwanted thoughts or tough emotions, language fails us.”

The Meditation Box’s temporary canvas of shifting sand provides a private place to confront these feelings; “no one—including yourself—will ever see it again, so why not scrawl out a mantra, confess something to yourself, or even draw the face of someone you wish you could see?” Once you get all of that mental clutter out of your system, you can simply shake the box, close the lid, and walk away.

Jayne created the prototype of the Meditation Box for a friend who admitted that she found it difficult to unplug at night, losing hours of would-be sleep to her laptop. In response, Jayne created her first box as a way for her friend to lighten her mental load at the end of the day. The laptop size felt familiar, while the layer of sand within gave her a space to be alone with her thoughts.

Meditation Box | Jayne Riew Maker Story | UncommonGoodsRecognizing the design’s versatility, Jayne also gifted it to a friend who lost a spouse. He uses the space to write what he would say to her if she were there. When Jayne apologized for the limited space, he pointed out that all the really important things one human needs to communicate to another can be offered in five words or less.

Living with her family in New York City, Jayne uses her own design as a declarative space to help her sort through seemingly never ending busywork, making even a simple to-do list a motivational affirmation. “I’ve actually been able to combat procrastination just by avowing something to myself in writing at the beginning of each day. When you declare things in writing, you see them outside of your mind. Sure, I could write it down on a piece of paper, but the strangeness of the form and the opportunity for play makes me pay attention and remember.”